PHOENIX — A judge on Thursday rejected Republican demands to immediately limit vote counts in the razor-close U.S. Senate race in Arizona and has set a hearing on the challenge affecting about 5,600 votes in the state’s most populous county.
Judge Margaret R. Mahoney said it was too soon to require Maricopa and other counties to stop contacting voters to verify signatures on mail ballots. She also declined to order the counties to temporarily separate mail ballots that have been verified by that process after Election Day.
County registrars said that would cause chaos and slow the long vote-counting process even more.
Mahoney scheduled a hearing today and indicated she would rule then.
Democrats claim the lawsuits by GOP officials are intended to limit votes for Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema in her race against Republican Rep. Martha McSally. The candidates are separated by only a few thousand votes. Sinema jumped to a modest lead Thursday night after traditionally Republican Maricopa County released a batch of more than 100,000 previously uncounted ballots She leads by 8,000 vote.
The numbers will change as counties continue to tally the ballots. But they excited Democrats and alarmed Republicans watching the count. It may be another week before all the ballots are counted. Throughout the state, more than 600,000 votes remain untallied.
The suit alleges that the state’s county recorders don’t follow a uniform standard for allowing voters to address problems with their mail-in ballots, and that Maricopa and Pima counties improperly allow the fixes for up to five days after Election Day.
Lawyers who filed the suit said they’d be happy if Mahoney decided to order the state’s more rural counties to follow the same procedures, which would expand the vote count.
Currently, several counties that lean Republican destroy mail ballots if voters don’t verify their signatures before polls close.
“At the end of the day, each vote should be treated the same way,” attorney Bret Johnson said in an interview.
Recorder Adrian Fontes, the official in charge of counting ballots in Maricopa County, home to 60 percent of Arizona voters, said his office would not finish tallying votes for another week.
“We know there’s urgency out there, but we want to get it right, not quick,” he said.